Since so much of our modern work communication relies on our inboxes, it’s incumbent upon everyone to learn how to communicate effectively through email. This is true even if you’re a chemical engineer who doesn’t know a preposition from a door handle.
If you’ve been finding that your emails are somehow missing the mark—perhaps your colleagues are more confused than they were before the thread began—there’s little reason to fret: There are ways to make sure your emails get the point across fluently, and you don’t need to be a literary whiz to get the job done.
How to structure your email
Think about it like a rudimentary storybook you might read to a child: There should be a beginning, middle, and end. No cliffhangers or untied knots, if you can help it.
If, for example, you’re reporting to a team about a project you’re leading, first explain what the project is and what you hope to accomplish through it. Then, describe what you’ve accomplished and where the project may be heading. Finally, wrap it up by asking for thoughts or questions, then bow out gracefully with a formal sign-off.
Another way to think about it can involve boiling it down to four steps. As Growth Consultancy Partners writes, you can follow this blueprint:
- Ask or action requested
- Concise description of context and impact
This might sound overly basic, but it’s easy for people to get bogged down in detail-heavy prose, which strays from the overall point of an email. The last thing you want is to confuse people on the receiving end, so keep your missive concise with clear, simple language.
Always use a subject line in your emails
There’s nothing more abhorred in email etiquette (at least for me) than an email that doesn’t bother with a subject line. If you’re just trying to get one person’s attention in a pinch—like, writing “can you call me?” in the body of an email—then maybe it’s OK. Generally, though, emails without subject lines are maddening, like when an accountant I used failed to add one despite sending me upwards of 50 emails in a single thread.
So, if you’re emailing a people about something important, add the topic of your conversation in the subject line. Make it short and readable—no need to wedge in any yogababble. Your colleagues, who might be combing through a mountain of unread messages, will appreciate your emphasis on clarity.
Keep your emails appropriate
If you work in a corporate environment with tons of people whom you only know on a working basis, don’t assume that everyone will understand your sense of humor. If you’re unsure about a wisecrack, don’t include it in your email. Some jokes are better said in person—especially so when you know your audience. Things said in the real world don’t always translate seamlessly to the digital realm, which means you should always temper your need for banter, especially when you can just leave the sillier conversation for happy hour.
These are just ground rules, but clarity is usually the prevailing rule of email etiquette, in addition to using common sense when it comes to subject lines and saving your humor for later.